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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Discrimination suit against Bailey's principal 'dismissed with prejudice'

Lemmon
The lawsuit filed by four employees of Bailey’s Elementary School against Principal Marie Lemmon charging her with discrimination and harassment has been “dismissed with prejudice.”

The suit, filed in federal court in September by former assistant principal Rachel Charlton, former teachers Yolanda Calhoun and Shyrone Stith, and former student J.C. Calhoun, claimed Lemmon and FCPS violated federal civil rights and anti-discrimination laws.

A message sent to Bailey’s families May 5 by Fabio Zuluaga, FCPS assistant superintendent for Region 2, states, the “lawsuit has been dismissed with no finding of any discrimination or inappropriate conduct by the school board or Ms. Lemmon.”

That’s not the complete story, however, according to sources close to the lawsuit who wish to remain anonymous. The case was not dismissed by the judge. In fact, the judge previously denied several FCPS requests to dismiss the case.

The plaintiffs voluntarily agreed to dismiss the case, and while it’s true there was no finding of wrongdoing on the part of Lemmon or FCPS, that’s because there was no opportunity to address wrongdoing. The litigation ended before the fact-finding phase.

FCPS wholeheartedly supported Lemmon throughout the case. “Fairfax County Public Schools and Superintendent Garza stand behind Principal Lemmon and endorse her continued, outstanding leadership and tireless work on behalf of the students of Bailey’s Elementary School,” Zuluaga’s message continues. “We are also very grateful to the Bailey’s faculty and staff for maintaining the positive focus on student learning while this issue was being resolved.”

Based on conversations with people close to the case, it is believed that the plaintiffs simply could not afford the legal costs of continuing with the lawsuit and settled out of court – although there is no official confirmation of a settlement. It’s also believed that if they say anything at all about the case, they will have to repay their settlement funds.

Stith and Yolanda and J.C. Calhoun had agreed to settle out of court months ago, but Charlton, who had the most complaints, hung on until the end of April. Five other people who had worked for Lemmon in the past had submitted letters to the court supporting the plaintiffs allegations stating that Lemmon had discriminated against them due to their race, religion, disability, or age. There were similar complaints against Lemmon when she was principal of Mount Vernon Elementary School, before her appointment at Bailey’s in November 2012.

FCPS had claimed in court that they were not legally liable for Lemmon’s actions, even if her behavior was rude and discriminatory, because they didn’t know about it. If someone in the future makes a similar complaint about Lemmon, FCPS won’t be able to make that argument because Lemmon’s alleged actions are spelled out in the court documents.

FCPS spent a huge amount of money, possibly up to $100,000, to defend Lemmon and sought a huge amount of documents from the plaintiffs, including many back years of medical records. One source calls that a “bullying tactic” and suggests that it could have a chilling effect on other potential whistleblowers with unrelated complaints against other school officials.

Charlton had formerly been on track to become a principal but is not expected to advance at FCPS and is now one of three assistant principals at Camelot Elementary School in Annandale. According to an observer, “she is being punished for trying to stand up for what was right.”

Camelot is a small school, with just 611 students. Most elementary schools of that size have just one assistant principal. Very few FCPS schools have three, even schools that are much larger. Bailey’s has three APs but that school has 1,480 students on two campuses, and well over half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches a majority have limited English proficiency.

“It’s ridiculous in a culturally diverse area like this that FCPS would allow this kind of discrimination to happen – and not only that but to support Marie Lemmon in such positive terms,” an observer says. “If this school had more active parents, we would have seen a different outcome.”

18 comments:

  1. And it is ludicrous to think that a principal of a school in an area with a majority non-white population is that discriminatory. Bailey's is mostly Hispanic. Moving on. FCPS need not waste another dime on this.

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    1. Well let's see - seems like a pattern forming. From Mt. Vernon to Bailey's. Give it a couple years, I am sure there will be another filing. And you are right, FCPS need not waste another dime as Ms. Lemmon should pay for her defense out of her own pocket and not the taxpayers.

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  2. 104 ORDER granting103 Motion to Voluntarily Dismiss with Prejudice. Signed by District Judge T. S. Ellis, III on 4/30/15. (gwalk, )
    103 MOTION to Voluntarily Dismiss with prejudice by Rachel Charlton. (Goelz, Krista)

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  3. Why was 100,000 of taxpayer money spent on her defense? Shouldn't she flip her own bill. I guess Ms. Lemmon will post a sign outside Upper Bailey's thanking the taxpayers. no?

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    1. Both Principal Lemmon and the FCPS were sued. The FCPS has the deep pockets here, so it would have paid the bulk of any judgment had the plaintiffs prevailed. Accordingly, it made complete sense for the FCPS to control the action by also providing Lemmon with representation. There's also a strong likelihood that Principal Lemmon would have successfully required the FCPS to indemnify her for her legal expenses. That's because this lawsuit arose from alleged misconduct that occurred during the exercise of her official responsibilities.

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  4. Who wrote this biased, self-interested comment? Karen Garza or one of her hacks? Of course Jessica Swanson wants to be Supervisor to raise our taxes to give Garza more hush money to protect lousy principles.

    But, of course, it's for the good of the kids.

    Typical Liberal stupidity.

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    1. Wow! You've managed to make a complete fool of yourself in a mere four sentences. This includes an unsubstantiated and unlikely claim that this story is planted; a completely unfounded and immaterial reference to Jessica Swanson replete with an equally unsubstantiated and unlikely statement about her purported agenda; and, finally, the obligatory use of the buzzword "Liberal" to unsuccessfully mask complete ignorance of the real situation. You also misspelled principals even though the word is correctly spelled in the article. So, once again, congrats on undermining your credibility in so few words.

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    2. Anonymous 5:27, your comment makes no sense at all. Why the attacks? Why the hate?

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  5. Ellie, can you post some of the relevant documents in the case, I still don't understand why the plaintiffs filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss?

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    1. You can find the documents on the PACER system - https://www.pacer.gov/. Look under U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. It's case number1:14-cv-01268.

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    2. This looks like a pre-trial settlement intended to compensate the plaintiffs for some or all of their grievances without any admission of liability by the FCPS. This is a common occurrence in civil litigation and doesn't signify that the plaintiffs would ultimately have prevailed. The article implies that the plaintiffs might have settled, at least in part, because they couldn't afford a trial. That's possible if they couldn't find an attorney to take their case on a contingent fee arrangement. The FCPS may have settled merely to avoid the higher cost of a trial or to mitigate the risk of paying a possible judgment. Regardless, you'll never know exactly what happened because the terms of the settlement are confidential. And, btw, the FCPS owed Principal Lemmons a defense. That's because the lawsuit arose out of her activities as an FCPS employee. Although the article implies that the FCPS may have sought to distance itself from her actions, I doubt if that if that strategy would have succeeded.

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    3. FOIA the school board for the settlement agreement, then.

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    4. The settlement agreement is a confidential agreement that's exempt from disclosure under the FOIA.

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  6. What responsibility does FCPS have to the plaintiffs who were also FCPS employees as the lawsuit rose out of their activities as employees of FCPS, just like Marie Lemmon?

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    1. If the FCPS didn't admit wrongdoing, it doesn't owe the plaintiffs anything other than what it agreed to in the settlement agreement.

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  7. "The litigation ended before the fact-finding phase."

    This goes both ways. This article is written as if the allegations against Lemmons were proven to be true. We don't know either way since the case was settled.

    Most settlements occur to reduce litigation costs and can not be viewed as an admission of wrongdoing.

    Maybe FCPS should take a closer look and determine whether Lemmons is fit for her position?

    "observers" and "sources close to the case" don't want their names printed because they want to keep that settlement money.

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  8. She's been up to this stuff for years and nothing has happened to her. Knew her at MVWES and before. this is nothing new.

    Agree that FCPS and Sandy Evans should take a look to see if Lemmon should really be at Bailey's.

    Where is Sandy Evans on this topic?

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  9. Anyone know how much this cost taxpayers? How much to defend an administrator who clearly had a pattern of Really bad behavior in two different schools? Crazy since they are asking for more $$ from taxpayers. How much did this cost us?

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